OSHA’s Back: How to Respond to an Inspection
During the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — at both the state and federal level — dramatically curtailed on-site inspections, but we have now passed that period and, simply put, OSHA is back. The number of printing operations being inspected is on the rise, and the trend is expected to continue, especially because the Biden administration has made enforcement and hiring more inspectors a priority.
When an OSHA compliance officer shows up at your facility for an inspection, it will no longer be a normal day for your operation. How well the inspection goes depends on how prepared you are. Remember, being in compliance with safety and health obligations will not prevent an inspection. Instead, having a plan to manage the inspection will help ease anxiety about it and better demonstrate your company is serious about OSHA compliance and providing a safe workplace.
Right now, we see a variety of reasons why OSHA might walk through your door. Employee complaints are on the rise, plus printing is considered a high-hazard industry for amputations, which automatically results in programmed inspections. Here at PRINTING United Alliance, we have also seen an increase in inspections due to accidents in the workplace that must be reported to OSHA.
So, what happens when OSHA walks in the door? First, it is important that your front office personnel know who on staff to call. Ask the OSHA inspector to follow your visitor requirements, including signing in at the front desk to receive a badge or watching any overview programs.
Keep in mind that even before an on-site OSHA inspection occurs, the compliance officer will have done homework on your company. Usually, they will review the inspection history of the company, any cooperative program participation, the type of company, and its operations and processes via the company’s website or other industry references. They’ll also determine what, if any, industry standards are applicable. A typical on-site OSHA inspection would involve the following:
- Presentation of credentials
- Opening conference
- Examination of documents
- Employee interviews
- Facility inspection/walk-around
- Closing conference
Presentation of Credentials
When the compliance officer arrives, the individual will identify himself or herself as such and present photo identification, which can, and should, be verified.
In rare instances, it may be possible, by request, to delay an inspection, but usually only for a brief period of time. This is sometimes requested to contact and assemble the company’s key personnel. However, OSHA does not need to grant such requests. Asking the compliance officer to come back later is not common, and the decision is made at the discretion of the officer or OSHA area office.
Once the OSHA compliance officer is greeted by the key staff with confirmed credentials, he/she should be directed to a private meeting room or office for the opening conference. The room should be cleared of any confidential business materials or potentially incriminating compliance information.
The compliance officer will explain the initial reason for the inspection and describe its scope, which can include a records review, employee interviews, and a physical inspection of the facility and operations. If the inspection was prompted by an employee complaint, you are entitled to receive a copy of the complaint, although you will not receive the name of the complainant. The compliance officer may ask if an employee representative is available to participate in the inspection.
The employer has the right to have a company representative accompany the compliance officer throughout the inspection process except during any employee interviews which are confidential and must be conducted in private. The compliance officer should never be allowed to walk around the operation unescorted and should be accompanied by a company representative.
Examination of Documents
The compliance officer will usually ask for your OSHA 300 logs from the past five years and other associated injury and illness records. He or she may also ask to see any written safety programs and training records required under the various OSHA regulations. If you have any doubt that the officer has a right to see something, politely ask what specific regulation requires documentation.
At some point, the compliance officer may want to interview employees. OSHA has the right to privately talk to workers during an inspection and record the interviews. The purpose of these private interviews with the compliance officer is to seek information about the level of safety knowledge and training the employee has, and to learn about any safety concerns about the workplace.
Depending on the nature and scope of the inspection, the compliance officer may request to see the facility operations or a specific piece of equipment. Prior to the walk-around, make sure the OSHA compliance officer and any accompanying employees are wearing the required personal protective equipment (PPE), including safety glasses, safety shoes, and earplugs, before entering the facility’s production area.
Depending on the purpose of the visit, it is best to just focus on what the compliance officer wants to see and, if possible, do not give a full tour of the entire facility. Try to take the shortest route to the area in question. After inspection of the specific area, immediately escort the compliance officer back to the conference room. Do everything possible to avoid areas of the facility where violations may be present because the compliance officer can, and will, cite apparent violations that are in plain view.
After inspection in the specific area, the compliance officer will discuss all apparent safety violations and hazards observed during the facility review/walk-through. The compliance officer will discuss all the relevant OSHA standards that were observed as violations and may discuss abatement requirements for some of the alleged violations. He or she may even provide some suggestions that have worked at other facilities, as well as the employer’s rights, which include conferences with OSHA, as well as the company’s ability to contest citations and/or penalties. The compliance officer may also suggest information on OSHA assistance programs, such as consultation programs, achievement programs, and outreach materials available to help companies comply with OSHA requirements.
Notably, the compliance officer will not be specific about which violations will be cited because he or she must first submit the report to the OSHA area office for processing. In addition, the compliance officer may need to do additional research and consultation with his or her staff about possible violations.
With the rise in OSHA’s enforcement activities, it is critical now more than ever that you take steps to both understand your obligations under OSHA’s regulations and implement a comprehensive safety program. Resources, both human and educational, are available from PRINTING United Alliance to help print service providers develop their safety programs.
About the Authors:
Marcia Y. Kinter is VP of Government & Regulatory Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, and Gary Jones is director of Environmental, Health, and Safety Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance. The PRINTING United Alliance Government Affairs team specializes in environmental, safety, and health issues, and are ready to help you both in the development of your safety program and when OSHA comes to call. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. To learn more about how Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources, please contact the Alliance membership team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary A. Jones is the director of environmental, health and safety (EHS) affairs at PRINTING United Alliance in Fairfax, VA. His primary responsibility is to monitor and analyze EHS regulatory activities at all domestic and some international government levels. He provides representation on behalf of the printing and specialty graphic imaging industry. In doing so, Mr. Jones works closely with the federal and state-level Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and other agencies. He also provides membership assistance on EHS compliance and sustainability programs through a variety of approaches including responding to inquiries, presentations, writing, and consulting services.
Mr. Jones is also supporting PRINTING United Alliance’s efforts for the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). SGP is dedicated to assisting printing operations respond to the customer demand for sustainable printing.
He holds a BS in biology from LaRoche College and an MS in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh.
Marcia Kinter is the Vice President, Government & Regulatory Affairs at PRINTING United Alliance. Ms. Kinter oversees the development of resources for the Association addressing environmental, safety & health, and sustainability issues. She represents the printing industry, as well as their associated supplier base, before federal and state regulatory agencies on environmental, safety and other government issues directly impacting the printing industry.
In 2008, Kinter, in conjunction with colleagues from other printing trade associations, was instrumental in launching the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership program. The SGP Program is a registry system for printing facilities that includes third party verification. The program successfully launched as an independent organization in August 2008.
Kinter is a member of and serves as Secretary for the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. In 2001, Kinter received the William D. Schaeffer Environmental Award for significant advancement of environmental awareness in the graphic arts industry.
Before joining PRINTING United Alliance, Kinter worked for The American Waterways Operators, Inc., the national association for the barge and towing industry.
She holds bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University.